Wild polio may have been eradicated from the African continent, but vaccination will have to continue to keep the virus from coming back – and coronavirus is disrupting that effort, a top World Health Organization official said Tuesday.
Teams fought conflict and struggled to reach displaced people to deliver the vaccines that eradicated the virus, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa, said during a live event on Tuesday.
“In working toward this goal, together, we have averted 1.8 million cases of paralysis among children, and in doing so deployed 9 billion doses of the vaccine,” she said.
However, the battle is not over. The oral polio vaccine uses a weakened but not completely inactive strain of virus that, if it circulates among incompletely immunized people, can mutate into a pathogenic form. Vaccination must continue to keep this strain from causing outbreaks, Moeti said.
The Covid-19 pandemic means that some immunization campaigns are being postponed in 16 countries that are experiencing this type of polio.
“The eradication of wild polio virus from the African region reminds us of the importance of investing in universal health coverage, in preparedness and response to outbreaks, and in making our societies more equitable, particularly for the most vulnerable among us,” Moeti said.